NICE stiff-arms Roche melanoma drug once again

Roche ($RHHBY) tried to sway the U.K.'s cost-effectiveness watchdogs toward its targeted melanoma drug Zelboraf. But it failed. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence stuck to its rejection.

Despite a Roche discount offer, and additional cost-effectiveness analysis provided by the drugmaker, NICE still believes Zelboraf isn't worth the price. The list cost is $2,700 per week, but Roche's offer is confidential.

NICE has been less-than accommodating to the latest cancer drugs. Treatments that, like Zelboraf, are directed toward a subgroup of patients tend to be more expensive than older drugs. But cancer therapies in general have grown pricier; consider Dendreon's ($DNDN) Provenge treatment for prostate cancer at $93,000. Bristol-Myers' ($BMY) new melanoma drug Yervoy--which isn't a targeted treatment, either--was priced in the U.S. at more than $120,000 per patient, and it, too, got stonewalled by NICE.

Targeted drugs, particularly cancer treatments, are among Big Pharma's biggest hopes for the post-megablockbuster era. If payers can't be persuaded, however, that hope could fade.

Fortunately for Roche, this isn't NICE's final word on the subject of Zelboraf. The agency said it needs more information from Roche. So, it's possible that the drugmaker will present enough supporting data--or offer an additional price break--to persuade the NICE gatekeepers.

- read the Reuters news